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Rheumatism in industry: a review
  1. J. A. D. Anderson
  1. 1Department of Community Medicine, Guy's Hospital Medical School, London SE1

    Abstract

    Anderson, J. A. D. (1971).Brit. J. industr. Med.,28, 103-121. Rheumatism in industry: a review. Information about causes, effects, and prevention of rheumatic disease among industrial workers lacks standardization, as shown by the literature in this field; one reason for this is that there are discrepancies about the range of diseases and syndromes which should be included under this heading. The Industrial Survey Unit of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council defined a rheumatic complaint as musculo-skeletal pain not related to recent (i.e., within six weeks) trauma. A study by the Unit of the social and economic effects of rheumatism among 2 684 male employees from a range of manual occupations is considered in relation to the observations made by other investigators. Sickness absence (at present estimated to be about 29·8 million working days per annum in Britain) and premature retirement can be shown to result directly from rheumatic complaints, especially rheumatoid arthritis and disc disease; furthermore, there seems to be general agreement that sickness absence is more marked in heavy manual occupations than in light ones. However, the extent to which job changes ascribed to rheumatic complaints are in fact caused by them is more doubtful. Evidence supporting the view that occupational factors are related to the aetiology of some chronic rheumatic diseases is fairly strong. Chronic tenosynovitis, bursitis, osteoarthrosis, and, to a lesser extent, disc disease are among those in which such a relationship can be demonstrated; however, the reason why some men are more prone to develop these conditions than others working in similar jobs is still in doubt, suggesting that the aetiology is multifactorial. In other rheumatic diseases, notably rheumatoid arthritis, a fairly extensive study of the literature does not indicate any clear correlation between occupation and aetiology. A system of job analysis for individual workers based on effort, posture, and climatic conditions at work is suggested. Its use as an alternative to grouping employees under their occupational titles might help to clarify these points. Prevention of rheumatic disease (including the use of pre-employment medical examinations) seems impracticable at the present time, but some progress in tackling the problems of rheumatism among industrial workers might be possible by improving rehabilitative services. These improvements would depend on closer collaboration not only between government departments but among doctors themselves and between them and others working in this field.

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